PORTLAND -- Kids at school districts across Oregon are enjoying healthier, more locally produced lunches, thanks to $1.17 million in School Garden Grants.
The funding is the result of House Bill 2649-- the "Farm to School & School Garden Bill" -- unanimously passed by the Oregon State Legislature in 2013.
Eighteen school districts in Oregon were awarded grant money, including the Portland Public School District, Beaverton, Centennial and Salem-Keizer School Districts.
At Kelly Elementary School in Southeast Portland, kids chose from an array of locally grown fruits and vegetables as they passed through the lunch line. On Tuesday, they picked between fresh snap peas and plums.
"A lot of the [produce] we get, [the kids] don't even know what it is until we have it here," said Danette Voytko, lead assistant cook at Kelly Elementary. "When they try it here, they can go home and tell their parents that they tried something new."
According to district nutrition officials, meals at Kelly Elementary School cost $1.35 each to prepare. The grant covers fifteen cents of that and pays for fruits, veggies, meat and breads from local growers, bakeries and ranchers.
"Sometimes (the cafeteria) serves new foods like watermelon," said third grader, Gabby Eichstadt. "You don't know what you're going to get. It's like a surprise!"
Outside the school, kids learn how their food is made by growing vegetables in their own garden. Sometimes, the harvest ends up in their lunch line.
"That's the main point of Farm to School," said Shannon Stember, Assistant Director for the district's Nutrition Services. "They can grow it themselves and be excited about the state they live in."
To convince legislators to pass the bill, school districts around the state invited their local lawmakers to lunch in their cafeterias. They wanted to show them how healthy, local food could make a difference in kids.
It's an effort they say pays off every day.
"When the kids get a good, nutritious meal, it makes them more ready to go back to the classroom and learn," said Voytko.